on finding that career sweet spot

In a CCD class in high school, we did an activity where we wrote a letter to our future selves in 2005. In the letter we wrote where we thought we’d be living and what we imagined we’d be doing. Even then I had no idea what to choose for my imaginary self. Possible career? I have to pick one? My response was clearly doable: “I’ll be living in Boston in a brownstone with my best friend Brittany and I’ll maybe be a pediatrician by day and a dancer at the Boston Ballet by night.” 2005 came and went and, I think it’s needless to say I didn’t become a twirling child doctor. 

Skip to college and I still had no clue what I wanted to do with my life. I liked things (everything) but I couldn’t see myself doing just one in particular. I now had a degree in Italian Studies with a minor in Art History, so moving to Italy seemed like the right choice. When I got here, teaching English was what I did strictly to afford staying; my heart was certainly not in it. I did that for a little while in private schools, but, and I can’t sugar coat this, it sucked. The pay was terrible, the owners were weirdos and I had no autonomy over what or how to teach. Keep in mind I had never even taught before; I was just dumped into this foreign ESL world and I had to pretend to enjoy it. 

After breaking out of the private schools and diving into freelance teaching, I finally felt a little better. I was managing my own hours and lessons and the calls for new students came pouring in. Word travels fast here, especially when you’re one of the few Americans available for in-home, private tutoring. I added Zumba to my repertoire and taught classes in the evenings which gave me my dance fix. I thought to myself, “Is this it? Is teaching my calling?” 

I didn’t feel like a real teacher though, and I craved a sense of adult realness. Finally, this year, I took a giant leap and applied to a bunch of schools to teach PON projects, which are state-funded, extra curricular lessons with an outside “expert.” In my case, the projects were conversational courses with a mother tongue English speaker, and varied in content from school to school. I sent out a lot of resumes, and didn’t get accepted to most of them due to my lack of experience, but I did get some! It was like Christmas when I got those phone calls that I had been picked for the job. 

What happened next kept me up at night; I had to tell my private students that I was moving on and had to cancel their lessons. To give you an idea of hard this was, let me just say that these families welcomed me into their homes with open arms, bought me birthday presents, called me during the summer when I was home in the states, sent me texts to come hang out and have a coffee some afternoons…etc. It was hard, and not everyone was congratulating me on my brave transition.

Now I finally feel like I’m getting there. These projects in the schools have made me feel like a real teacher, but without the headache of meetings, grades, annoying parents and bureaucracy. I can do whatever I want with the students, and I have kids of all different ages, which is fun for the variety. The 8th graders are my favorite so far. 

I’m telling you all of this because I want you to know that it’s never too late to make a change, and never too late to find out what your career sweet spot is. It seemed like I would never get away from freelance teaching (the money’s good, how will I tell the parents? will the schools even accept me? etc.) but all it took was sending out one resume to give me the boost I needed. There were a lot of no’s but the few yes’s made me feel like anything was possible; I had the power to change my life. The people I thought I was disappointing would get over it. I had to do this for me and, look ma, I’m doing it!
[with the 5th graders]

My ideal sweet spot? More projects in the schools, a few more Zumba hours and keeping up with the blog. I’ll get there someday. :) How about you? What’s your ideal career situation? Do you have it already? If so, tell me about it! 


  1. Awww great post! Oh how I WISH we were roomies living in a lovely brownstone in Boston together but I think things are turning out pretty good for you on this road too:)

  2. Great post! I'm so excited for you! I wish I had my dream career, but I'll get there someday...honestly I don't know what that is yet, but I know it's not my current job! haha :)

  3. So glad you posted this today because... I desperately needed the boost! I'm in the process of trying to find my career sweet spot, but it's long and slow goings... which is frustrating considering that I just studied a Masters. ha.

  4. congratulations! I can't imagine how hard it was to tell the families, but you're right - you have to maximize YOUR potential if you really want to impact your students whoever they may be.

  5. your dream is my dream! okay, so i am a history teacher in grades 7-12 and with my passion for italy (i'm talking paaasssion!) i would love to do what you're doing someday. i applied for the fulbright thing and didn't quite get in..and have since focused on my career at home, which i am so lucky to have. but i would love to do a stint in italy. i am most certain you will reach your goal, which may change, you know!? it's funny what side roads we have to take to reach our final destination. this is such a great inspiring post and i am thrilled for you!

  6. It is never to late to make a change... well said Marissa! :)


thank you so much for your thoughtful comments, i love reading them so much!

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